Excerpt from Black Fridays by Michael Sears, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Black Fridays

By Michael Sears

Black Fridays
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  • Hardcover: Sep 2012,
    352 pages.
    Paperback: Sep 2013,
    432 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

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Print Excerpt


"Thanks, Pop." I nodded off for a bit.

The rain tapered off, leaving a thick fog. I couldn't see shit from the GW Bridge. If New York City was throwing a party for my return, it was well hidden.

THE FIRST STEP had been just a mistake. An error. I put the wrong date on a trade ticket and the computer, rather than catching it and spitting it back to our clerk, assigned the trade to the following year.

In this case, changing the settlement date gave a huge boost to the plus column for the day's trading. The group had already had a very good day—we were up almost five million according to the computer. The fact that we should have been up only four and a quarter mil got lost in the euphoria.

Two days later, my clerk came to me with a report showing our unsettled trades. It was immediately apparent to me what had happened, and under normal conditions, I would have told him to make the corrections and shrugged off the restatement of our earnings.

But it was not a normal day. I had just had a major antler-crashing session with a bureaucrat from the risk management department who didn't understand why my group kept going over their intra-day risk limits. I tried to explain that it was an inevitable function of our business. Customers often ganged up, all leaning in the same direction at the same time. We waited for our moment and then struck— sometimes we made out, more often lately we had not. But forcing already stressed traders to keep watch over their shoulder while in the middle of the fray was a sure way to get them all to sit on their hands. They would manage themselves toward the risk goals rather than the profit goals. The bureaucrat thought that this was a good thing.

I took the report from the clerk and ran my eye down the page. The mistake stood out like a pink elephant in Antarctica. Why hadn't anyone else caught it?

I checked the computer—the trading desk was having a bad day. A brutal day. They were down close to three mil. If I authorized a correction on the trade, we would be down almost four. I made a second mistake.

"Why are you sticking this in my face, Joseph?" I only called him Joseph when I was pissed at him, otherwise he was Joe, or Joey if he had done something of special note.

He almost flinched. "It just needs your initials, Jason."

"Is there a question? Do you think there's something here I should see?"

He hesitated. "No, sir."

"Fine." I signed off with a scrawl and dismissed him.

I walked off the trading floor and hid in my office for the next hour, watching the red numbers accumulate on my monitor. The desk was getting crushed.

At that moment, I still had every intention of correcting that one trade just as soon as we had one good day. We had had many more good days than bad in the previous years. This was just a dry spell. A batting slump. The market had changed abruptly after the introduction of the euro. We would find a way to get our groove back. When we did, I would put through the correction.

That was the plan.

The next time was not a mistake. Once again, I had just walked out of a meeting. The little fucking bulldog from risk had taken his problem up the chain of command. I had to "explain" the "discrepancies" to a bunch of suits from the risk committee. The senior guys were all graybeards who hadn't traded anything since Nixon let the dollar fl oat. They did not understand. Markets had moved on. They should all have been out playing golf rather than wasting my time.

The truly fucked-up thing was that they were not asking me about a three- quarter- million- dollar mistake— that I had signed off on twice—but about limits of risk exposure that my twelve traders collectively violated each and every day—and always had—but for only brief moments. An hour at most. Not a big deal. To me.

Excerpted from Black Fridays by Michael Sears. Copyright © 2012 by Michael Sears. Excerpted by permission of Putnam Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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